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In child protection cases, the Department of Children and Families (DCF) files a petition at the juvenile court containing allegations that a child has been abused, uncared for, or neglected by a parent or caregiver. The court hears the matter and determines what needs to happen in order to protect and safeguard the child from harm. A child may be removed from his or her home if the allegations are very serious.


The child protection system is designed to protect and safeguard minor children from situations and/or people who may be harmful to that child. Any person with reasonable cause to believe that a child or youth is being physically or emotionally harmed, or denied adequate care, may report the suspected abuse or neglect to the Department of Children and Families (DCF) for an investigation. These reports are often made by a person serving a critical role in the child’s life, such as a teacher, doctor or other “mandated reporter” who is required by law to report suspected child abuse or neglect.

Once reported, DCF will investigate the allegations and determine whether the child is at risk for harm. In most cases, DCF determines there is no significant risk for harm and may refer the family to a community provider for voluntary services. If, however, facts appear to support the allegations and reflect a need for court intervention, DCF will file a petition at the juvenile court alleging that the child is abused, uncared for, or neglected. If there are immediate concerns for the child’s safety, DCF may also seek an Order of Temporary Custody (OTC) to remove the child from the home for a period of time until the court takes final action in the case.

Once a petition has been filed at the juvenile court, the child and his or her parents are entitled to legal representation. The court will appoint an attorney for the child when a petition is filed and for parent(s) if they are indigent. In these proceedings, DCF is represented by an Assistant Attorney General (AAG).

The parents can either admit or contest the allegations, which will determine whether the case will proceed to a trial. By admitting to some or all of the allegations, the case will proceed to disposition without a trial. By contesting some or all of the allegations, there will be a hearing for the court to decide whether the allegations contained in the petition are true. During a contested hearing, all parties will have the opportunity to present witnesses and other evidence in support of their case. DCF will seek to present a wide range of information about the parents’ background, including employment, mental and behavioral health, and criminal history. Also of concern will be the child’s health and educational progress. The court may order evaluations of the parents or the child, and will decide what specific steps the parents must take to improve the situation so that they will be able to appropriately care for the child. Some or all of this information may become part of the court record in a child protection case.

After all evidence has been heard, a judge will decide whether the child should be "adjudicated" or found to be abused, uncared for, or neglected. If the judge finds the child has not been abused, uncared for, or neglected, the case will be dismissed. If the judge finds the child has been abused, uncared for, or neglected, a dispositional hearing will take place to decide the best option to prevent further abuse or neglect of the child.

The court may order one the following dispositions:
  • Return/Remain with Parent(s): the court has decided that it is in the best interest of the child to be with parent(s).
  • Protective Supervision: the child remains in the home with the parent(s) under DCF supervision.
  • Transfer of Custody/Guardianship: custody and/or guardianship is transferred to a relative or other person who must be a suitable and worthy caregiver.
  • Commitment: the guardianship of the child is removed from the parents and usually given to DCF for a period of time.
  • Dismiss: the court dismisses the petition.
Child protection cases typically end when the child is in a permanent placement, is returned home with no further DCF involvement or turns 18 or is emancipated. If at any point DCF comes to the conclusion that the problems resulting in its involvement cannot be resolved, DCF may file a petition to terminate parental rights. A Termination of Parental Rights (TPR) is the complete severance by court order of the legal relationship, with all its rights and responsibilities, between the child and the parent(s) so that the child is free for adoption or some other long-term permanency option until the child reaches the age of 18.



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